Simple Meal Planning for Fall
When it comes to meal planning, people tend to have three opinions:
Some people love it
Some people dislike it because they think meal planning is too rigid and doesn't allow for spontaneity
Some people like the idea of it but don't like it because they think it's too much work
Oh, then there's me. I have all three of those opinions. That's why my meal planning looks a little different.
I am a planner by nature who is on a tight budget, so meal planning is a must. But as a lover of food, laying all our meals out ahead of time can seem like a real downer. Plus, I am a busy mom who doesn't always have "extra" time to sit down and come up with a brand new list of meals for the week.
So that's why I started my own way of meal planning!
I used this system of meal planning last fall and winter and it really helped me to stay on track with our grocery budget and my dinner prep.
Meal Planning for Fall & Winter
What I do is make a list of about 30-35 different dinners. Since I did this last fall already, this year all I did was delete the meals we no longer enjoy and I added new meals that I found on pinterest to try. Those meals will be used every month.
You'll notice that all of these meals are made with chicken, since hubby just got told that he needs to avoid eating mammals (beef, pork, bison, lamb, etc.) Last year, our meals would have been about 50/50 for chicken and beef.
I have linked to the applicable recipes, but I rarely follow them exactly. I usually only use meal recipes as inspiration and I make changes according to our allergies and personal preferences.
Update: I have put an asterisk (*) beside the meals that have been family favourites so far! (We have not yet tried everything.)
Chicken & chopped vegetable soup
Chicken "Noodle" soup
Butternut squash chicken soup*
Egg drop soup
Meatball minestrone soup
Beet borscht soup
Roasted chicken & mashed carrots/cauliflower*
Roasted chicken & roasted vegetables*
Chicken a la King
Spaghetti squash & tomato-less meat sauce*
Honey garlic chicken stir fry*
Asian style meatballs (made with ground chicken)*
Spaghetti squash & chicken alfredo*
This is more than the number of meals I need, but because some of them we haven't tried yet, I wanted to cover my bases in case a couple are flops. Also, it gives us added variety from month-to-month.
But what if it gets boring? I simply cross off the meals we're tired of and swap in something new. I don't have to completely recreate my meal plan!
Another benefit to meal planning one month's meals is that I call my butcher ahead of time, place my meat order and pick it up when it's ready. I have all the meat I need for the month in my freezer, ready to go. No running to the store mid-week because I don't have anything for dinner! (I just need to remember to take the meat out of the freezer... but that's a post for another day.)
To determine how much meat I needed (which in this case, is only chicken), I put a note beside each meal that said either: whole, thighs, breasts, ground, or leftovers. I added up how many whole chickens, thighs, breasts, and ground chicken I needed. Since we also like to have leftovers for lunch and use the carcasses for soups, I bumped up the number of roasting chickens. I know that this will be more than we need for a month but I would rather have too much for September and order less for October.
How much chicken did I order?
Thighs (pkgs of 6) x 6
Breasts (pkgs of 2) x 6
Ground chicken (1lb pkgs) x 8
Update: By ordering my chicken in bulk, I saved 5% on the chicken breasts and 10% on everything else! My grand total for meat, which will last me at least one month, is $347.07 (Canadian).
Now that I have my list of meals and my freezer stocked with meat, I plan out my meals one week at a time. By planning one week at a time I can plan meals around my schedule (slow cooker meal on a busy day, roasting a chicken on a day we're home all afternoon, etc.) and I can plan to eat the meals I feel like eating that week so I'm not "stuck" eating something I really don't want.
Because I have to go shopping once a week anyway for eggs and produce, planning weekly works for me. On Sunday or Monday I will plan out the meals for the week and make my grocery list, then on Tuesday I go shopping.
From my master list of meals, I pick seven of them for the week and cross them off (strikethrough) so I know we've used them that month. Then the next week, I choose seven more. And so on.
At the end of the month, I uncross all the meals on the list and start fresh for the next month.
This method of meal planning works really well for me. I don't have to stress about what to make, because I already have a great list to choose from. But I still have the flexibility to plan out which meals I want each week.
Do you need more help with meal planning?
Real Plans can help! You can choose from Traditional, Paleo, Vegetarian, Whole30 and more meal plans and they'll give you all the recipes and lists you need to get dinner on the table as easily as possible!